What is Bridge?
Bridge is a federally-incorporated not-for-profit organization. It brings together people who believe we can and should remove barriers that prevent members of underrepresented and underestimated groups from participating fully and equally in the technology industry.
We do this by skilling up and supporting women, agender, and non-binary professionals with our free 11-week software development and 12 week product design programs. In small classes, and through hands-on project-based work taught by industry experts, we improve skills and greatly increase the confidence of our students so that they’re ready to go from their first job in tech to their first great job.
How do you Solve a Problem like Gender Inequality?
Like many tech companies, Rangle was struggling to move toward gender parity on our development teams. As we looked for opportunities to do better, Rangle’s Diversity Guild launched internally. The purpose of this employee resource group was to ensure Rangle was a welcoming place for everyone to work as we continued to strive towards being more diverse and inclusive. The employees wanted a space to openly discuss broad diversity and inclusion-based concerns and possible improvements for both the community and Rangle.
In these meetings, there were lots of discussions around the topic of gender parity and hiring non-men. It quickly became clear in these discussions that the industry as a whole faced an issue of interviewing many talented non-men that are “almost hireable” but lack some of the necessary technical skills. The number of intermediate and senior developers who are women, agender, or non-binary was simply too small to provide a gender-balanced hiring.
It was during one of these discussions where the idea of creating a program that would get junior applicants who were almost hireable skilled up in a short period of time. We knew from our own personal experiences that there were many women, agender, and non-binary developers who had the potential but were forced to fight the massive uphill battle of inequality on top of simply doing their jobs. We asked ourselves: What if we provided these developers with that technical and professional skills training and then see if we can hire and retain them?
Running a program to bridge the skills gap would help companies like Rangle hire these new developers, and give applicants the skills they need to succeed. After discovering through some research that there wasn’t already a program like this, we decided to launch a beta program to see if we could pull it off.
Bridging the Gap
How this idea was received was exactly why I wanted to work at Rangle. I absolutely love the sort of freedom and entrepreneurial spirit the company encourages.
I sat down with Rangle’s CTO at the time and asked, "Can we start a school? We can train women in this group part-time, bootcamp style, but with advanced content, to see if that’s enough levelling up to a point where we can hire them. And we’d do it for free. We can try to solve this problem in a bigger, more systemic way.” That was my pitch. I thought, "I don't know if this idea is going to work, but the only way we can find out is if we try something small and grow it from there.”
From the moment I heard "let's do it,” there was nothing but support to remove the barriers we needed to get it done. We received executive support, assistance from Rangle’s talent team who sourced and screened all our original applicants, and help from our now Director of Developer Success, Abdella Ali, who started developing industry-relevant curriculum that students would need to know in order to be hired at a company with high expectations like Rangle.
Through a series of interviews with women in the community (Bridge’s more inclusive focus on women, agender, and non-binary developers and desigers evolved over time), it was clear that this was the biggest need population we wanted to serve. After understanding what they needed to succeed, and putting together the curriculum, we ran a beta test with four students over eight weeks. When that was a success, we launched applications for Cohort One. We broke Rangle’s website due to overwhelming interest. Obviously, we were onto something big.
Over time, growing Bridge hinged on whether or not Rangle would be the one to support our mission, especially if we brought on additional sponsors. Would they be the kind of founding partner to incubate us through our initial success?
Thankfully, Rangle’s c-suite leadership have been amazing at helping us do long-term planning for the program, providing the incubation funding needed while we also engaged with other corporate partners to help us grow and serve more of our community. Personally, this also had a huge impact on me. While I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, the hefty cost of bootstrapping a solution was unattainable for me while paying student loans and having no access to a “friends and family” round. Rangle made Bridge’s growth possible by extending their support once I needed to work on the organization full time. It was another “let’s do it” moment, with Rangle’s leadership stepping up to ensure we could execute on our developing vision. Bridge quickly became an organization that needed things like office space and computers -- all things a brand new non-profit faces, and Rangle has helped provide that necessary infrastructure so we could focus on our program work.
Investing in Bridge has benefited the diversity at Rangle directly at the same time by resulting in 12 developers being hired, with plans to hire more in the near future. In addition, although our volunteers now include developers, designers, and other tech professionals from all around the Toronto tech community, to date over 50 Rangle employees have volunteered for Bridge spanning hundreds of hours of work.
People always ask me, "Why is Rangle doing this? Why wouldn't they just keep this program internal?" And the only thing I can say is the truth: from the top down, Rangle has always supported the idea that this is about the community at large. Bridge is something that helps so many more people by going beyond the walls of one organization, and the leadership at Rangle had the vision to be able to see and support that from day one.
Bridge Today and Beyond
From those initial conversations at Rangle’s Diversity Guild, it has really been a community-driven effort that has led to Bridge’s success.
At any given time, we have 30+ Ranglers in all kinds of volunteer roles. From mentors, organizational, administrative, designers -- you name it. It’s unlocked so many doors for our program. Rangle has incubated Bridge the way other companies incubate for-profit startups, and the employees have united around the initiative to give back in ways we couldn’t have dreamed.
Bridge is more than just a way to level up developers and designers to the intermediate level. It’s a way for them to show and to practice leadership and communication skills, to go on and mentor people like a senior or lead developer does. Bridge is an amazing morale booster and retention mechanism for existing developers and designers at the company already and Rangle employees understood this from the start.
It’s this kind of value that we’re working to show our new sponsors. If you’re a company who’s experiencing difficulty hiring diverse candidates, we don’t want you to just throw money at the problem. We want you to support an initiative that enables companies to then turn around and actually hire diverse candidates, because they have the skills those companies need. In turn, you’ll attract an even more diverse group of candidates, as potential employees see you are the type of company to truly commit to the hard work of doing better.
With continued proven success, Bridge is becoming more and more popular. In the past year, we've become an independent non-profit and we’ve had great initial success at getting other companies to partner with us to fulfil our mission.
We've already graduated over 90 students, and when we look a few years down the road, that becomes hundreds of people in the community that we've been able to help. So instead of going into more junior programs, we're actually planning to go into more advanced programs. No one is really in that space and so we’re planning to push that even further. We can also achieve another one of our goals: to run as many cohorts as we sustainably can in order to help as many people as possible.
In the next 5 years, we're going to see a very different tech scene in Toronto because of the hard work of Bridge’s staff and volunteers are putting in. A large majority of our students go on to find better jobs or level up to more responsibilities or bigger projects in their current jobs. They get better pay and have more opportunities, all of these are all things that will accelerate them into leadership positions. Our programs improve with each new one we run, and we have no intention of stopping the success we’ve seen so far.
In the long term I’m confident we’ll see Bridge graduates as CTOs and in other executive positions. Not only are we attracting people who like to program or design, we’re attracting people who are ready to be the leaders of tomorrow. We want to provide them with everything we possibly can to get them to that success point, every step of their path.